CONDITIONS AT WALLENS RIDGE
Horrendous conditions at Wallens Ridge include: Five point restraints are common. Prisoners are strapped to a steel slab cot in a cold concrete cell for 48 hours or more, spread-eagled with only underwear shorts for clothes.
Prisoners are not allowed to get up to use the toilet so they are forced to lie in urine and feces. Stun guns are common, beatings, inadequate medical and mental health care. Prisoners are moved constantly from cell to cell as a means of control.
All of these are in violation of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners approved by the UN in 1957 and signed by the United States.
Prisoners who complained about conditions at Red Onion were transferred to Wallens Ridge and vice-versa. Both are Super Max prisons.
Please write to: ** Ronald Angelone, Director, Virginia Department of Corrections, 6900 Atmore Drive, P. O. Box 26963, Richmond, VA 23261 USA
(Respondent who reported these atrocities withheld the name of the prisoner who informed him because he has already faced retaliation for complaints in the past.)
** Current Director of the Virginia DOC is
Gene M. Johnson
P.O. Box 26963
Richmond, VA 23261-6963
Phone: (804) 674-3000
February 4, 1980 - April 5, 2000
20 BRIEF YEARS
David Mark Tracy was the 12th of Alice and Thomas Tracy's 13 children. Weighing but 6 lbs. 4 oz. at birth, David was a beautiful baby who grew into a healthy and happy little boy within the loving circle of his large, happy family.
David was a smart child with a playful nature. He loved bike riding, going fishing with his 8 brothers, 4 sisters and his parents, and he loved playing baseball and basketball. He was a fun brother, who loved to laugh and attended church every Sunday at the Salvation Army church.
David's parents are good people who raised him to realize that we are all God's children, and that people were not to be judged by their race, creed, color, financial status or religion, but by the content of their characters and what's in their hearts. David understood that we are all brothers and sisters and he accepted everyone in that spirit.
David was only 17 years old when he went to jail for possession of approximately $100 dollars worth of drugs, which were found near but not on him. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and spent fewer than 2 years in a Connecticut prison before he was transferred to the newly-built, and already notorious Wallens Ridge Unit, which sits on an isolated mountain top in Virginia.
Wallens Ridge is staffed by a cadre of racist guards who immediately singled David out for verbal and physical abuse because he associated with people of all races.
David wrote home that the guards were always messing with him and had begun spraying women's perfume into his cell and calling him "nigger lover," "race traitor," "northern scum," and "Connecticut bastard."
Seven months before he was due to be released David's family received a phone call from another prisoner. The frantic caller told David's family that the guards were constantly harassing David and he was afraid they would kill him unless they could help him. He begged them to please help David. Before they could get help to him, David was dead.
In his statement to the media Connecticut DOC Commissioner John Armstrong stated that a guard had witnessed David jump off a bunk with a noose around his neck. The guard claimed to have gone for help, but no help was possible because David's wind pipe was crushed and they couldn't get air into his lungs.
According to the autopsy performed on David's body, there was nothing wrong with his windpipe. David's family are certain that their beloved son and brother DID NOT commit suicide.
David loved life and his family. He was making plans to regain his life in 7 short months, and looking forward to being home where he could once again relax and enjoy the safety, love and warmth of the family he missed so desperately.
The prison kept David's body for 11 days before sending him home to his family for burial. During that time they called David's family several times to ask if they wanted his body cremated.
Why the delay in sending David's body home? Why were they so anxious to cremate him? What is the Wallens Ridge prison covering up????
The families of prisoners transferred to Wallens Ridge from New Mexico and Connecticut began receiving word from their loved ones of treatment such as that inflicted on David Tracy as soon as they reached that dungeon of torture and death. After two inmates were shot by guards Connecticut legislators finally responded to the pleas of prisoner families and made an inspection tour of Wallens Ridge.
In Warden Stanley K. Young's office they were surprised to see displayed an array of Civil War memorabilia and a model of a slave ship. But they took no action. They still have taken no action.
How many young men will die at the hands of Virginia racists before the states of Connecticut and New Mexico stop sending the husbands, sons and brothers of their citizens to be tortured and murdered by the degenerate fiends entrusted with the lives of the helpless inhabitants of Wallens Ridge?
What REALLY happened to David Mark Tracy? Does anyone REALLY believe that after serving 23 grueling months of incarceration and with only 7 months left to go on his sentence and anxious to see his family again, David Tracy committed suicide?
This was David's first time in prison. He was a completely non-violent young man. We want to know why he was sent to a level 6 private prison in the first place.
David's family needs answers. They need justice - for David and for themselves!
Please write to the Governor of Connecticut to demand that he remove all Connecticut prisoners from Virginia prisons NOW, before the life of another life is sacrificed on the diabolic alter of racism!
Correction Budget Boosted
By Edward Fitzpatrick --The Hartford Courant
June 21, 2000
The state will funnel $2.5 million into mental health programs and halfway houses, hoping to free up prison beds as the inmate population rapidly grows.
In revising the state budget Monday, the General Assembly earmarked $1.5 million for evaluating people charged with misdemeanors to see if they need mental health or drug-treatment programs. The legislature also pumped $1 million into halfway homes for inmates leaving prison and $100,000 for additional probation officers.
"These are tactics that, when taken together, will probably have a big, measurable impact on the need for prison beds over the course of a year,'' said Michael P. Lawlor, an East Haven Democrat and judiciary committee co-chairman. "Over the next six to nine months, we'll see if this diverts enough inmates to realistically consider bringing the 500 inmates back from Virginia.''
The state's inmate population has nearly doubled over the past decade, going from 8,777 to 17,392, and Connecticut is now housing 469 inmates at Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap, Va.
Monday's action may have an effect in the long run, but it won't free up prison beds in the short term, said Scott Semple, the Department of Correction's legislative liaison. "One of the big issues we have as an agency is the need for high-security bed spaces, and this does not really address that problem,'' Semple said.
But the funding could help in the future if it reduces the prison population and the rate of recidivism, he said. For now, though, the department is looking to expand existing prisons with $25 million remaining in the state budget. Republican Gov. John G. Rowland included $50 million for prison expansion in his budget proposal, but Democratic lawmakers cut that in half when they killed a proposal that would have put 800 prison beds in the New Haven Armory.
Within the next week, the Department of Correction plans to issue requests for proposals, asking places that already have prisons if they're interested in adding more cells, Semple said.
The state will be able to fast-track the new construction and is hoping to create 800 new prison beds. "It will probably get us halfway to addressing the current need,'' Semple said. "But at least it gets the ball rolling, and we can begin the process.''
Connecticut Inmates exported to Virginia's Wallens Ridge Prison
Complaints Include Racism, Stun Guns
By Edward Fitzpatrick --The Hartford Courant
June 19, 2000 Big Stone Gap, Va. -
Deep in the heart of Appalachia, a rocky ridge rises above an old coal-mining town. The mountain ends abruptly at 2,900 feet, sheared off to accommodate a supermaximum-security prison ringed by razor wire. This is Wallens Ridge State Prison, home to the worst of Virginia's criminals - and to nearly 500 Connecticut inmates sent here to ease crowding.
The lone road to Wallens Ridge winds skyward, climbing 2 miles past fields of wildflower, slowly revealing the majesty of the mountains of southwest Virginia. At the apex, though, the idyllic scene shifts. A bald-headed guard stands with a shotgun resting on one shoulder. From behind dark sunglasses, he keeps an eye on inmates cutting the lawn. A loudspeaker echoes from within the prison's concrete walls. Pickup trucks dot the parking lot; one has a sticker that reads: "Red Neck.''
To enter the prison, visitors pass through a metal detector and heavy steel doors that slam shut immediately. The clink of ankle chains warns of a prisoner's approach.
The Connecticut inmates sent to this mountaintop fortress say it is a world apart, a world in which shotguns and stun guns are used to keep order, a world of racial taunts and fear. ``It's hell,'' said Norwich's Victor Negron Jr., shackled hand and foot inside a windowless cinderblock room. "It ain't nothing like Connecticut. When you come down here, it's a whole different story.''
As if to prove his point, a fight broke out in another part of the prison as Negron spoke. Guards used hard-rubber pellets to quell the disturbance, but in the process injured three Connecticut inmates who had nothing to do with the melee. The routine use of shotguns containing rubber pellets is just one of the issues that have made Wallens Ridge a lightning rod for criticism.
Race is emerging as a persistent issue; Wallens Ridge mixes white guards from the rural South with black and Hispanic inmates from Connecticut cities. And with 700 miles separating inmates from their families and friends, visits are rare.
But as the complaints mount and protesters march in Connecticut, Republican Gov. John G. Rowland remains steadfast. In fact, Rowland, whose tough talk on crime helped get him elected, sought - but failed to win - the legislature's permission to send 500 more inmates out of state. When the General Assembly convenes for a special session today, Democrats hope to pass legislation aimed at shifting nonviolent prisoners into drug treatment and mental health programs. And the Republican administration hopes to end up with $25 million for prison expansion.
But there's nothing on the table that addresses the use of Wallens Ridge. One of the most outspoken critics of the Virginia transfers, Democratic Rep. Michael P. Lawlor of East Haven, said he sees only two scenarios that would bring inmates back from Wallens Ridge: a nightmarish incident or scandal, or the end of crowding in Connecticut prisons.
Race And Place
Tavares Cosby, a black inmate from Bridgeport, said that soon after he arrived at Wallens Ridge, he heard a white guard and a black inmate calling each other "nigger'' and "cracker.'' Connecticut inmates have repeatedly complained about racial taunts by Wallens Ridge guards. Connecticut Correction Commissioner John J. Armstrong said none of the allegations have been proved thus far.
Of the 200 or so correction officers at the prison, six are black and none are Hispanic, according to guards. That racial makeup, they said, simply reflects that region of the country. But it does not reflect the racial makeup of the Connecticut inmates at Wallens Ridge, who are 48.5 percent black, 26.5 percent Hispanic and 25 percent white - a situation the Connecticut NAACP president called a "potential powder keg.''
Correction officers at Wallens Ridge downplayed racial tensions. They said they wouldn't do anything to jeopardize jobs that often represent a marked improvement over their prior employment. One guard said his $14 hourly salary is more than double what he made in a factory.
Wallens Ridge opened in April 1999, one year after a twin facility called Red Onion became the state's first supermaximum-security prison. The prisons were needed, Virginia officials say, to handle prisoners serving longer sentences after the state abolished parole in 1994. But critics say Virginia overbuilt, spending millions on prison beds now occupied by inmates imported from as far away as New Mexico.
About half of the nearly 1,000 inmates at Wallens Ridge are from out of state. For Big Stone Gap, a town of 4,728 devastated by massive layoffs at the Westmoreland Coal Co., Wallens Ridge meant badly needed new jobs. To build the prison, local officials sold $78 million in bonds, which are being paid back with lease payments from the state.
In the process, critics say, officials have created the kind of dangerous dynamic often seen in rural prisons, where job-starved people with little experience are given guns, badges and authority over inner-city inmates from different races and cultures. The result, they warn, can be abuse of power. "Central Appalachia is poor and white - rural people who for the most part don't come in contact with blacks and Hispanics,'' said Sister Beth Davies, a community activist in Appalachia and former principal of a Catholic high school in Stamford, Conn. "The inmates coming in are people of color from urban areas. It's a setup for failure. It exploits both populations.''
Big Stone Gap officials say the local community is being unfairly portrayed. "We are not, as one of your cohorts in the Connecticut media portrayed us, some mountain men with bibbed overalls and no teeth, holding a Confederate flag in one hand,'' said Charles Miller, director of the Big Stone Gap Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which launched the prison project. "He thought we were from `Deliverance.' ''
While a visitor might see Confederate memorabilia, "you could also see someone with a UConn cap on,'' said Town Manager George R. Polly. For many, he said, "the primary concern is college sports, not the war between the states.''
Worst Of Worst?
While politicians and pundits ponder the bigger questions of racism and policy, Victor Negron Jr. just wonders why he's in Big Stone Gap. The 25-year-old convicted murderer acknowledges he was disciplined for fighting and disobeying orders in Connecticut prisons, but he emphasizes he was also studying for his GED and taking anger-management classes.
"I was trying to rehabilitate myself,'' Negron said. "I'm not the worst of the worst.'' Sympathy for killers can be hard to come by. And of the 480 Connecticut inmates at Wallens Ridge, 163 are serving sentences for murder or manslaughter. But not everyone is there for a violent crime. Of those 480 inmates, 42 are serving sentences for selling or possessing drugs.
It was the apparent suicide of a young drug offender that ratcheted up criticism of Wallens Ridge. David Tracy, a 20-year-old Bridgeport resident sentenced to 30 months in prison on a cocaine charge, died in April, seven months before his release date. Tracy's case focused attention on the criteria Connecticut uses to send inmates to Virginia.
Wallens Ridge is meant for high-security inmates, those placed in administrative segregation, those considered high-risk gang members, and those with chronic disciplinary problems.
Shotguns And Stun Guns
Billy Santos, a convicted murderer from Bridgeport, seems cool and confident, making statements like: "I fear no man.'' But as he talked about life at Wallens Ridge, it became clear that he lives in fear of ricocheting pellets and electronic stun guns. "I'm aging quickly,'' the 22-year- old said at one point. "It's constantly stressful. Every inmate in this institution is a walking time bomb.''
During the first year of operation, guards fired 80 shots - 68 warning shots and 12 rounds of rubber pellets. Since the prison opened, guards have used electronic stun devices 112 times.
Virginia officials are unapologetic. Ron Angelone, director of Virginia's Department of Correction, declined to be interviewed but provided an article he wrote in August 1999, titled "Why `Supermax' Prisons Work.''
Non-lethal weapons quicken response time and can keep inmates from injuring or even killing other inmates and staff, Angelone said. "I'm tired of people going around telling the world that we're just mean folks shooting innocent folks,'' he wrote. "We are not. We are saving lives.''
Connecticut does not routinely use shotguns to control inmates, but it also has a higher incidence of attacks on guards and staff injuries, Correction Commissioner Armstrong said.
Virginia does not allow the media to tour any of its prisons, although reporters can talk to inmates in an interview room. "We are just not going to let the general public in here,'' said Larry Traylor, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections. "We are here to protect the general public.''
But critics say the real motive is to protect Virginia prisons from public scrutiny. "Oversight and accountability might be inconvenient for correction officials,'' Lawlor said, "but they have proved to be vital to safe and secure prisons.''
Many Miles, Few Programs
For Billy Santos, the worst part about Wallens Ridge is that he can't see his family. They used to visit once or twice a week in Connecticut, but they can't afford the trek to Big Stone Gap, he said. For months, officials have promised to install closed-circuit televisions at a few sites in Connecticut so families can see and talk to inmates in Virginia. Armstrong said technical and bureaucratic problems have slowed the process, but he expects the system to be ready soon.
From the beginning, Connecticut inmates also have complained about a shortage of educational, rehabilitative and religious programs. "We are not benefiting from being up here,'' Cosby said. "We want to do something, and all we can do is play cards and chess or go out and play basketball.''
Armstrong said more programs will be offered at Wallens Ridge by mid-summer, and Traylor said programs are already available, though they're offered through closed-circuit television in the cells for security reasons. "It's not just a lock- them-up, throw-away-the-key situation,'' he said.
Angelone was less diplomatic during the dedication ceremony for Red Onion. "What are they going to be rehabilitated for?'' Angelone said, according to The Roanoke Times. "Let's face it; they're here to die in prison.''
But many of the Connecticut inmates at Wallens Ridge will be free one day, and critics question what price society will pay if those prisoners are not rehabilitated.
"If you put someone in a cage, with no outlets, no ways of growing, what are you going to get?'' asked Dennis Higgins, an inmate from Milford now at Wallens Ridge. "An individual in worse shape than when he came in.'' Higgins, a 37-year-old with a record of assault and robbery, said he expects to go free in 18 months. And, he said, "I might be your next-door neighbor.''
Full Story Available From The Hartford Courant Archives
The Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
PRISONACT] Report CT Prisoner had complained about medical treatment
ACLU Sues CT Corrections Chief Over Abuse of Prisoners Housed at Notorious Virginia "Supermax"
HARTFORD, CT--Connecticut's top prison official acted with "deliberate indifference" by knowingly allowing the brutal mistreatment of inmates under his care at a notorious "Supermax" prison in rural Virginia, the American Civil Liberties Union charged today in a federal class action lawsuit.
"Connecticut inmates convicted of non-violent drug offenses and low-level crimes like burglary are being treated like Hannibal Lecter, and some of them are dying," said David Fathi of the ACLU's National Prison Project, which filed the case in U.S. District Court here together with the ACLU's Connecticut affiliate.
The legal action comes as Connecticut lawmakers wrestle with solutions to prison overcrowding and as the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities prepares to release its findings about Wallens Ridge State Prison in Virginia, the maximum security prison -- known as a "Supermax" -- where two Connecticut prisoners have died in the last year.
The class-action lawsuit names Department of Correction Commissioner John J. Armstrong as the sole defendant, citing his "deliberate indifference" to "the risk that [Connecticut inmates] will suffer serious physical injury or death" at the hands of Wallens Ridge guards.
Specifically, the ACLU said in the legal complaint, prison guards routinely strap inmates into five-point restraints for up to 48 hours for petty offenses, a practice that runs counter to correctional standards, which warn against using the device for more than two hours at a time and against using restraints as a punitive measure.
During these incidents, prisoners are bound to a steel bed by restraints at the wrists and ankles and a strap is tied across the chest. The device compromises respiratory function by hampering the rise and fall of the chest and abdomen, which results in increases of carbon dioxide and decrease of oxygen to the tissues. Prisoners are not properly medically supervised during their restraint, the ACLU said in its complaint.
The United Nations Committee Against Torture's 2000 report called on the United States to abolish the use of restraint chairs for those in custody. The restraint chair is very similar to restraint boards and tables in their immobilization of prisoners and all produce similar health risks.
"No matter where Connecticut inmates are housed, Commissioner Armstrong is responsible for their health and safety," said Toya Alek Graham, an attorney with the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union. "Out of sight does not mean out of mind, and it certainly does not mean outside of the law."
Inmates are held in restraints without any consideration of whether their behavior results from mental illness or whether the use of restraints will exacerbate it, Graham noted, adding that state mental health advocates have expressed concern that Armstrong's office may be withholding information that could substantiate claims of abuse of mentally ill prisoners housed at the Supermax.
Today's lawsuit was brought on behalf of Robert Joslyn of East Hartford and as a class-action on behalf of all Connecticut prisoners who are now, or will in the future be, housed at Wallens Ridge or its twin "Supermax" institution, Red Onion State Prison in Pound, VA.
As described in the ACLU complaint, Joslyn was twice placed in 48-hour restraint after being accused of petty offenses. During both incidents, which took place in January and March 2000, Joslyn was strapped down in a cold cell wearing only his boxer shorts. He was not given timely access to the toilet and as a result defecated on himself. He could barely stand after being released.
The ACLU detailed these and other disturbing incidents in a January 26, 2001 letter to Commissioner Armstrong, warning that a lawsuit would follow if the Connecticut inmates were not immediately removed from the Supermax. To date, Armstrong's office has given no reply.
Reports of inhumane conditions at Wallens Ridge are not new. Amnesty International, as part of its 2000 Campaign to Stamp Out Torture, published complaints from Wallens Ridge prisoners describing "a climate of fear and intimidation" maintained by prison guards.
Last year, two Connecticut inmates died under questionable circumstances at Wallens Ridge. Authorities said 20-year-old David Tracy -- with four months to go on a two-year drug offense sentence -- hung himself in his cell. Lawrence Frazier, a diabetic, died of heart failure after being repeatedly shocked with a stun gun by guards. Private lawsuits are pending in those cases.
The case, Joslyn v. Armstrong, was filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut by Fathi of the ACLU's National Prison Project; Graham and Philip D. Tegeler of the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union and cooperating attorney Alan Neigher of the firm Byelas and Neigher in Westport.
The ACLU's complaint is onlined in .pdf format at http://archive.aclu.org/court/joslyn.pdf.
A fact sheet on the use of physical restraints is online at http://archive.aclu.org/issues/prisons/phys_restraints_factsheet.html.
David C. Fathi
ACLU National Prison Project
Practice Limited to the Federal Courts
Toya Alek Graham
Connecticut Civil Liberties Union
Three Wallens Ridge State Prison guards indicted along with prison captain
Herald Courier, Bristol, Virginia
Jan 23, 2002
By JOE TENNIS Bristol Herald Courier
WISE -- Three Wallens Ridge State Prison guards were indicted Tuesday on charges they beat an inmate, and a prison captain was indicted on a conspiracy count.
The four face charges in the alleged Nov. 17 beating of inmate Thomas Plummer.
Similar charges were filed earlier this year but were dropped pending Tuesday's grand jury review.
Michael Bliley, 32, of Coeburn faces one count each of felonious assault, assault and battery, forging a public document, destroying a public record and conspiracy to commit a felonious wounding.
Matthew Roland Hamilton, 29, of Big Stone Gap was indicted on one count each of felonious assault, destroying a public record, conspiracy to commit a felonious wounding and forging a public document.
Jeffrey Scott Compton, 28, of St. Paul was charged with one count each of assault and battery, forging a public record, destroying a public record and conspiracy to commit a felonious wounding.
Capt. Isaac Thomas Hockett III, 48, of Coeburn was indicted only on a conspiracy charge.
Wise County Commonwealth's Attorney Joe Carico said the grand jury heard testimony from several guards who said they saw the incident and from some who said the inmate was not beaten.
The grand jury also heard from Compton, Bliley and Hamilton, and from Wallens Ridge internal affairs investigator John Acosta. Prison Warden Stan Young also testified, Carico said.
"I put several charges in front of the grand jury to see what they thought the evidence supported," the prosecutor said. "They found true bills on every one."
He said the felonious assault charges differ from the original malicious wounding charges in that the felonious charge does not require the state to prove malice. Felonious assault carries a maximum five-year sentence. The four guards are represented by Norton attorney Tim McAfee.
"I'm surprised at what the grand jury did, but I can understand it," McAfee said. "A grand jury only has to decide if there is probable cause."
A 12-member jury is likely to have a different view of the case, he said.
"I think when a regular jury gets to hear the full story from 15 to 20 witnesses, ... I'm hopeful my clients will be vindicated," he said. "They were responding to an inmate that was out of control."
The four will be tried together, McAfee said.
Plummer is serving a 28-year sentence on robbery, use of a firearm, petit larceny and unlawful wounding convictions.
Inmate abuse allegations have surfaced at the state prison before. Last year, a group of Connecticut inmates were transferred to another prison after they repeatedly alleged they were subjected to racist treatment and abusive discipline.
One Connecticut inmate died after he was zapped with a stun gun, but an autopsy report stopped short of concluding it was a factor in his death. Since then, the state has reviewed use of stun guns in all its prisons.
© 2002 Herald Courier
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